From left to right stand Pecos juniors Carlos Cordova, Mario Archuleta and Josh DeHerrera.
(left to right) are the Panthers' Jacob Varela, Anthony Armijo, Josh DeHerrera, Carlos Cordova, Cameron Quintana, Issac Ced Baca, Christian Anaya, Mario Archuleta, Xavier Padilla, Omar Dominguez, Isaiah Valdez, Issac Gonzales. Quintana, Archuleta and Valdez are the tri-captains.
"I've been blessed," says Pecos boy's head basketball coach Ira Harge, Jr., regarding his district champion on a 24-game win streak
Panthers ranked No. 1 in 3A at 24-1 and await District 3 final Saturday night as state tournament looms
By ARNIE LESHIN
If the Pecos boy's basketball team bears any resemblance to its track and field and cross country programs, it suits head coach Ira Harge, Jr., just fine.
Not only does he have players from these teams, but they are athletes who have won state championships in T & F and XC. And so they have the will to win, the attitude, the desire, the talent, and what it's like to hoist a state trophy and return to a parade through Pecos.
Now if the basketball team can find a way to put together its own success story, it would not be surprising. Harge, in his fourth year as head coach, is happy with this group that has won 24 of 25 times.
"They're a great bunch," he says. "They are like brothers, they have great attitudes, love to play together, and I've just been blessed."
Coming off a 23-7 campaign where they lost to eventual state 3A champion Texico in the state semifinals, these Panthers won District 3 at 8-0, and now await Saturday's championship game against either runner-up Desert Academy or third-place Raton.
And they are the top-ranked team in their class, which will no doubt bring them a top seed.
Losing the season opener to West Las Vegas is history. Harge says his team took the court that day without starters Issac Cde Baca and Carlos Cordova, both off the school's track and field and XC teams and two reasons why this team can run the floor with anybody.
"Yes, we play the up tempo game," Harge says. "We run the transition game, we apply pressure on defense. We mix it up. We've got kids who just love to run, and that relates to their track experience."
It's s team on a mission, on a 24-game win streak. It hasn't lost since game one. There was one close one-point win over non district opponent Santa Rosa in the Tri-Cities tournament, but in the rematch, Pecos dominated by 22 points.
The tight one against the Bears came two days before the New Year. The other one came on Valentines Day. When you are winning it doesn't matter what day it is.
"We have good depth," Harge says, "and usually go about 8 to 10 deep. In games that aren't close, I just empty the bench, something I like to do."
He also likes the fact that, after a week since his last game, his team is ready to go, and with no injuries.
"Knock on wood," Harge says.
He adds that the state ranking and long winning streak is something he doesn't emphasize. He says that the most important thing is to win every quarter.
"We returned players, but it's still a young team," says Harge. "We don't have great size, but we do go 6-feet across the board."
Breaking it down, along with four 6-footers and a 6-1 junior post in Christian Anaya, there's Jose DeHerrera, a 5-foot-7 junior guard, coming off a cross country season in which he finished second at state behind senior teammate Julian Garcia. He's also one of the leading players on the court. Then there's 5-10 junior forward Michael Montano who finished eighth at state under head coach Patrick Ortiz.
Six-foot senior Cde Baca, one of the four tri-captains, placed 20th at state XC, and 6-foot junior Cordova ran 34th as the Panthers were crowned state champs.
Of the other 6-footers. junior guard Mario Archuleta is one of the key players, and is one of the captains along with 6-foot senior Cameron Quintana. At 5-7 is senior Isaiah Valdez. There are only three seniors on the roster that includes seven juniors, two sophomores, and two freshmen.
The team has scored 97 points on two occasions. It has totaled 80 or more in seven contests.
The program has never won state hoops. Three times, it made the final. In 1967 in Class B, it lost 56-45 to Taos Central and finished 26-6. In 1983 in 2A, it came into the title game undefeated in 26 games before losing 64-62 to Escalante. And in 1987 in 2A, the Panthers went 17-12 and lost 65-59 to Clayton.
Harge stands 6-7, two inches shorter than his dad, Harge, Sr., who starred at University of New Mexico and in the ABA, the league of the red, white and blue ball. He resides in Albuquerque and is a regular at Pecos games.
As for junior, he says he's still in decent shape, sometimes plays 21 with his players, and says he wins some and loses some, but it's all fun.
He played high school ball at Albuquerque's St. Pius X, then at San Diego State before graduating from the University of Denver.
He's got sons and daughters who live for athletics.
His son, Drew, played football at New Mexico Highlands. His daughter, Jazmine, played volleyball at Highlands. A younger daughter, Acesa, does track and field at Las Vegas Robertson, and another daughter, Alianza, plays basketball for the Cardinals.
Ira (the 3rd) plays basketball at Highlands, and then there's daughter, Mary, who competes in volleyball at a high school in Reno, Nev.
Dad's assistant coaches are Dominick Baca and Arthur Gonzales.
It will be a doubleheader at Pecos Saturday. Under head coach Ron Drake, the Panther girls also won district and play in the 4 p.m. opener, with the boys to follow.
Then comes Sunday's NMAA announcement of the state tournament brackets and the stretch run for both programs.
There are 28 schools in 3A and also among the higher ranked teams are Texico at 19-7, Santa Rosa at 18-7, Dulce at 18-6, Dexter at 17-8, Cuba at 21-8, and Newcomb at 17-7. But the seeding is key as the Panthers rest on top of the heap.